Friday, February 17, 2012
Movie Appraisal: Chronicle (2012)
I had heard some decent things from both reviews and from word of mouth, but I didn't really know what to expect. There are a glut of what seem to be described as deconstructions of the superhero genre. I haven't really seen many of them, and I have no real desire to see any of them either. This is not out of any malice towards the movies, but rather because I simply am apathetic about these movies. They don't usually mean much to me. This movie, Chronicle, is a deconstruction, certainly, but is also a found-footage film done very well, and a pretty good dark high school drama film as well.
The film centers on three high schoolers who find something strange in a a hole underground. The main character Andrew (Dane DeHaan) is a bit of a recluse, a loner, a strange nerdy guy with a lot of issues at home. He is not only unpopular, but is largely unnoticed. The other two characters are the very popular Steve (Michael B. Jordan) and Andrew's cynical cousin Matt (Alex Russell). These three have incredibly good interactions with one another in the first half of the film, and almost make it feel good as a film, rather than dark as it will eventually become.
The first half of the movie centers on both Andrew, his home life, school life, lack of social life, etc. and the interactions and friendships between the three leads. Andrew is the loner, the one who never really had friends. The only person he seems close to is Matt, who also seemingly dislike him. Andrew's father is not only an abusive, unemployed drunk, but he also sees reality in his own way rather than the way it actually is. He is a largely despicable character.
The movie in general can be predicted in advance. Everything can be seen even to the people who are not exactly genre-savvy. It plays out exactly like one would think it would, with Andrew being pushed off the deep end through his home and social lives, a character dying, and a hero and a villain emerging. That being said, although this movie is predictable, it is also very good. I enjoyed it thoroughly, although the ending was not exactly to my liking. I would have much rather liked the father to have died and Andrew to have burnt himself out on his own power. That would have worked beautifully. The way it ended fell flat for me instead.
This is one of the few movies I have ever seen that has a fantastic opening though. The characters seem real when introduced. The plot moves along at a steady and enjoyable pace, and the darkening of the plot is thoroughly foreshadowed even when the story is downright silly. The first half of the movie does have a lot of comedy in it, something I probably wouldn't have enjoyed as much if I hadn't seen it in the theater. I tend to not love comedy, which is why I never do comedy reviews, but the comedy in this one feels very real. Teenagers with these superpowers would play pranks and have fun in these ways. I like that a lot.
The plot is pretty standard and works pretty well. I like how the movie darkens after the death of Steve, and I like the set-up to his death... with the plane scene happening before foreshadowing the whole thing, showing the happiest day of the three characters' times together contrasted with the darkest, saddest day. I thought it was very well done, appropriately sad and terrible, showing how close Andrew was to falling all along, and how Steve was really the one he was relying upon for support. It also shows just how terrible Andrew's father is, being the kind of person to throw Andrew's enjoyment right out the window. Yes, I understand that there are dire things going on at home and everything, but it's not Andrew's fault and there's nothing he can do. He obviously cares about his mother, obviously helps in every way he can. The father is simply a selfish prick who can't see past his own faults. It's terrible.
The cinematography is found-footage, that's certainly true, but because of Andrew's powers, it makes the camerawork almost artsy. I liked it even if in the theater it gave me a headache. I think I would have enjoyed it more on DVD probably. Not much else to say about it then that. I thought it was a good example of found-footage, and mostly very well done all around.
As for characters, here comes some criticisms. I liked both Andrew and Steve. They both came off as heavy contrasts of characters, but could and did get along very well. Their friendship seemed incredibly apparent, and their stage show was one of the most heart-warming parts of the movie to watch. Both characters had incredibly deep and meaningful antics and dialogue, and both felt very real and very needed in the story as a whole. I thought that they were beautifully done. Steve seemed to be an amazing, heroic type of guy, whereas Andrew is trouble but trying to be the best he can.
Now for Matt. I didn't like Matt. I thought he was superfluous to the entire story and a big huge Marty Stu besides. He is the typical "good guy" character. He has an "arc" that is so apparent it feels like somebody was etching it on a nail they were pounding into my brain. His whole "love" sideplot was unneeded and ridiculous, easily one of the lowpoints of the movie for me. The portrayal of women in the film, especially in regards to Matt, but all around too, seems heavily exploitative, almost showing that girls are only good for sex (making a kid into a man) or being a backup cameraperson. I would have much rather had a female taking the part of Matt and going with that rather than having Matt as the "hero" character. I simply did not like it. It did not work for me at all.
Maybe it was because Matt wasn't very good at anything, or maybe it was because he just seems so "good" and so "righteous" when he put his cousin down for years, never thinking anything more about Andrew than he's weird or a fly on the wall or whatever else. He seemed both insincere and obnoxious. To me he was unneeded and the ending felt worse with him saving the father, killing Andrew, and ending off the film. Andrew should have burnt himself out. The father should have died. Matt should have not existed. Those things would have made the film much better.
I heard in the original version Andrew kills his father like he kills the spider earlier in the film. That would have been fitting. I didn't like how the father got away with everything he did in the end. I felt a little cheated.
The acting here though, despite some character complaints, is very good all around. I think the only person I can criticize is the girl with the camera, Matt's girl. I don't think it necessarily had anything to do with her acting, but rather her part. I hated that part with undying passion. I hated why it was there and what it meant to the story. Dane DeHaan and Michael B. Jordan are really the outstanding players here, but Alex Russell shines as well, especially in the emotional scenes. The father, played by Michael Kelly, also does a fantastic job of making me hate his guts. So, take that for what it's worth.
I liked the movie quite a bit. I didn't love it, but I thought it did a good job at being both different, the same, and quite enjoyable besides. I wish certain things had been different because it would have changed my feelings about the movie quite a bit, but I liked it and would recommend it to people who like superhero movies (deconstruction or otherwise) and people who like found-footage films. It's not necessarily for the whole family with the gore in the film and the brutal family and social life of Andrew, but it works pretty well as an experience.